MINNEAPOLIS, SEPT. 20 -- Northwest Airlines got a $500 million loan from Airbus Industrie and General Electric Co. as it negotiated an airplane purchase from Airbus, the European aircraft maker said today.

Sandy Smith, a spokesman for Airbus Industrie of North America, said Northwest is free to use the loan for purposes other than paying for the planes. The loan coincided with an order for Airbus planes valued at $4.6 billion, she said.

Northwest and GE would not comment on the loan, and Airbus, a four-nation European aviation consortium, did not disclose terms or say what portion came from GE. A GE joint venture supplies engines for the aircraft.

Jack Gamble, a spokesman for Seattle's Boeing Co., would not comment on whether the loan gave Airbus an advantage in bidding for Northwest's business.

Northwest's parent, NWA Inc., recently ordered 75 Airbus A-320 aircraft and took options on 30 more in a deal valued at $4.6 billion.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Northwest plans to use the loan to repay debt it took on in a buyout last year led by Alfred A. Checchi. The group borrowed about $3 billion to buy the airline, of which about $1.7 billion of debt remains, Northwest spokesman Bob Gibbons said today.